Champion of diversification a force for good

Businesses must seriously consider diversification to be part of the new green economy, says Barney Swan, founder of ClimateForce charity in far north Queensland.  At 28 and armed with business and multi-media degrees from the US, he understands the fears and aspirations of younger generations and he knows that as climate change heats up, business and industry must act and be seen to act.

Diversification, he says, might include moves into renewable energy, natural capital, decarbonisation, and climate tech, all now billion-dollar industries. “We could be leaders in the southern hemisphere if we can diversify from more exploitive industries like mining and cattle.”

Steps taken to align with sustainability goals might start with small tweaks: a sugarcane grower might consider growing something more sustainable on part of the property, or decide to use less herbicide, or devote a small section of the land to a wildlife corridor, Swan adds.

“It’s not necessarily pulling the carpet out of what’s been done for decades, but I think diversification is critical,” he says. “Whether that’s tourism and taking people out to the Reef, rather than using marine diesel-run boats, getting electric or hydrogen boats, or how we’re managing people going into our forests. Or little things, like only using reef-safe sunscreen. So it’s both little and big decisions.”

Swan believes green diversification is critical in terms of branding the region of far north Queensland as a place known for environmentally-conscious tourism and development. “If you can signal you understand and you have a net zero commitment, and neutralise all your emissions, that’s great,” he says. “If you’re not signalling, not showing you’re on that diversification path, then you’re in trouble.”

His ClimateForce charity, which now employs seven people, is working to reforest a wildlife corridor covering more than 200 hectares between the Daintree river and the Daintree rainforest. All the cattle were taken off the land and the charity has already planted it with 6,500 trees and plans to plant another 5,000 in coming months. No pesticides or herbicides are used on the property and Swan says all the trees have been geotagged and they can be seen on an interactive dashboard. ClimateForce is selling each tree for $100.

“Right now that’s one of our revenue streams, the tree sales, on top of green tech R&D about zero emissions agriculture, biodiversity tracking, carbon abatement modelling, and rural development,” Swan says.

Government bodies and agencies could open doors for people and provide subsidies to help them achieve sustainability and zero net emissions, rather than enacting stiffer regulations and penalising transgressors. Take cattle for example, he says. Graziers can take different sorts of action to minimise their carbon footprint and actively avoid damaging the environment.

“A lot of cattle are not managed well in Queensland, properties need more fencing, they need to hire more staff for rotational grazing so the soil doesn’t get too encumbered by too many cattle in one area,” he says.  “To achieve that, you need more money for fencing and labour, so subsidies could be provided, instead of getting people in trouble.”

He personally believes the penalty model is less effective than encouraging and subsidising businesses to look to sustainability and to care for the environment. Fines and penalties have not prevented illegal land clearing in far north Queensland, he points out, so it could be time to try another tack.

The same thing goes for promoting simple social trends, he adds. “Fundamentally people need to be getting more from something, rather than less. So instead of Meatless Monday, why not New Recipe Tuesday?”

At the grass-roots level, small businesses can make environmentally-conscious administrative decisions, Swan says. ClimateForce has banked with ANZ, but recent revelations of the bank’s “shocking fossil fuel contribution” prompted a switch to Bendigo Bank in the coming months, he adds.

At the same time, Swan thinks it’s important to avoid isolating people and industries from the conversation of sustainability. He notes there has been a recent increase in the pugnacious name-calling of large emitters.

“People say ‘screw big oil, screw mining, screw cattle – you’re evil industries”, he says. “We obviously need to hold them accountable, but at the same time we need to work with big industry to achieve what we need to with climate. If they’re isolated and siloed from the sustainability momentum we’re not going to achieve what we need to with material shift, energy shift, and fundamentally just respecting nature more.”

Swan moved to Australia from Britain when he was six and went to school in far north Queensland. As a young adult headed to university in San Francisco. He has come to the conclusion that hope is an important emotion in the battle to cope with climate change.

“Not false positives,” he says. “We have to lead with the facts, the somewhat grim reality with what we’re up against. But staying in that doesn’t support anyone; you have to shift that into an opportunity, a solution, and to be excited about that.”

The Australian